When Mafia II hit consoles earlier this year, both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions were positively reviewed. The game presented an engaging, if somewhat cinematic, take on mafia life by focusing on two main characters: Vito Scaletta and Joe Barbaro. Players saw the world through the suave eyes of Vito, but Joe was a nearly ever-present sidekick, serving as both comic relief and loyal best friend. Because the story focused on Vito, we never knew what happened to Joe during Vito's time in prison or how he came to switch crime families. The new DLC from 2K Games, Joe's Adventures, aims to answer that question.
The first thing to understand about Joe's Adventures is that this is not your typical DLC. The estimated eight hours of gameplay being advertised by 2K is not an inflated marketing number. Assuming you're playing on at least medium difficulty, it's a realistic expectation. Right out of the gate, you're pretty much guaranteed a good value for your gaming dollar. The typical length for a standard DLC expansion is a mere hour. By offering up a DLC add-on that is only $10 and has about two-thirds the content of the original game, 2K is significantly raising the bar for other publishers. The content is easily on par with what PC gamers have come to expect from standalone expansion packs.
The second thing you need to know about Joe's Adventures is that most of its flaws are attributable to issues with the core game engine. They are problems that are present in the original game, so in short, if you enjoyed Mafia II, you're likely to enjoy Joe's Adventures.
Joe's Adventures starts at the point where Vito is getting nabbed by the feds. As we talked about in the preview, the DLC expands on the how and why Vito was sent to jail, as well as exposing the fact that Joe was also getting set up. Marked for death by the mob, Joe leaves town for five years before returning to make a name for himself and set things right.
Taking a cue from the previous Mafia II DLC, Joe's Adventures offers missions in an open-world style. With few exceptions, players can pick and choose which order to attack missions, making things feel a bit more freeform. Missions are offered by recognizable characters from the game, so they are used to give some background to otherwise minor NPCs. Some of the characters who are featured as mission givers include Bruski, Eddie, Giuseppe and Marty. Unfortunately, most of that backstory is given via text since most of missions don't feature voiced cut scenes. They are simply introduced by a single text screen before dumping you into the action.
When the story-driven missions arise, Joe's Adventures is in top form, offering up both memorable new locations (the frozen lake, the supermarket shootout) and memorable insight into existing characters. The in-mission banter between Joe and Vito was one of the endearing points of the original game, so having Joe fly solo for many of the missions is immediately noticeable.
The solo missions are arcade-focused, with countdown timers, score multipliers and online leaderboard support. You are encouraged to replay these missions to get a better score and place higher on the leaderboards. For the competitive types, it's an appeal that should not be understated.
Where Joe's Adventures stumbles the most is the same place that Mafia II stumbled, and that's with the driving aspects. Sadly, car handling has not been improved, so when it comes to driving, you should expect to drive around with a brick that has bald tires with zero grip. Even when the sun is shining, you're going to feel like the roads should be iced over; it's that easy to get your car to spin out or crazily fishtail when making a turn.
Because of these issues, the multiple driving missions feel like a chore rather than pure fun — especially the one that forces you to keep your car over 35 MPH for the entire time, lest it blow up. Make a single error, and it's restart time.
Driving frustration also arises in the missions that have you being chased by other mobsters with guns. You see, Joe may know how to drive fast, but he is apparently incapable of firing a gun while behind the wheel. Being shot at when you can't shoot back is frustrating, to say the least. Given that none of the arcade-style missions feature checkpoints, this also means quite a bit of replaying.
For every arcade mission that frustrates because of the driving, there are twice as many that force you to come up with creative solutions in order to complete them, and it is those moments where the real satisfaction comes into play. One such mission has you being tasked with retrieving an armored car. The car is surrounded by guards, and while you can just run in with guns blazing, doing so means that one of the guys will jump into the car, forcing you into another chase sequence. Plan your attack, however, and it is possible to take the guards out one by one, resulting in an unguarded car that is yours for the taking.
Joe's Adventures delivers more of what you've come to expect from the game. The new areas are memorable, and the story-focused missions do a good job of explaining exactly how things came to be while Vito was away. There are no major game engine changes (so don't expect public transit to make an appearance or for massive numbers of buildings to suddenly become explorable), but the sheer amount of content makes Joe's Adventures difficult to ignore.
Ultimately, any purchase decision comes down to how much you enjoyed the original game. If you hated Mafia II, there's nothing here that's going to change your mind. On the other hand, if you enjoyed your time with the original game, this DLC pack should be considered a necessary purchase.
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